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Marketing Personas

It’s Time for Marketing Personas to Get Real

Wes Sparling

I am old enough, though just barely, to have met more than a few unsung heroes of the advertising world. I’m talking about those people who worked in agencies making the successful campaigns we have all come to know and love: creative directors, copywriters, and others who put pen to paper to create campaigns like “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas,” “Joe Isuzu,” and many others. A lot has changed in the past 20 years, but much is still the same.

Media has exploded, targeting methods have changed, and a diverse array of media channels exist now that never existed before. The days of targeting one mass audience using only demographics are largely gone, as are the days of mass mailing to that same audience with little regard to who they are as individuals.

The More Things Change…

It’s true that we do things differently than in the past, but the core principles of marketing are still the same. Rather than speaking to a mass audience with generic messages, we strive to speak to ever smaller groups with relevant messages and offers. Even speaking directly to individuals is driven by data insights.

Today, professional marketers try to understand their target audiences as deeply as possible. Modern analytics has made that more possible than ever before. We can record and sort both demographic and behavioral data and use it to divide a mass audience into clusters, reaching them with criteria such as media usage, income, age, credit band, and more.

The targeting options available today include simple broad market demos, to personas based on groups of key demographic criteria, to advanced and complex statistical targeting models. We have better ways to locate prospects and customize messages than ever before, and we do it all with an eye toward delivering the right message at the right time to the right audience.

Savvy marketers can target customers through the mail using complex statistical response and conversion models, robust media, and demographic models driven by behavioral data, lifetime value (LTV), and customer journey insights. Yet I am consistently surprised when those marketers choose to apply a very high-level, persona-based profiling system to their targeting efforts without aligning that system to known record level consumer data.

Alan Cooper coined the idea of the persona. It was his way of creating a fictional character to represent a user type or group that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. The idea of the persona has become common in modern marketing. However, the idea of a persona suffers from the very fact that it is fictional.

In order to really make use of the persona approach, we need to move it from a fictional character that may have been drafted by corporate management based on what some have described as trends, arbitrary assumptions, and aspirational financial or quantitative insights” to one that is a data-driven profile.

Marketing Personas Need to Get Real

What we need is to create a different type of persona—one based on a segmentation approach driven by core criteria such as LTV, revenue, or profitability. In short, an analytic segmentation approach. In my experience, analytic segmentation is a far better approach than a purely qualitative and fictional persona.

But I must give credit where credit is due: not all fictional personas are without quantitative or qualitative insight at their core. In fact, the idea of a persona as put forward by Alan Cooper is one that represents the goals, behaviors, attitudes, and skills of a hypothesized group of users and is based on qualitative data.

With a Little Help from Quantitative Data

Taking this to the next level and aligning it with quantitative data paints a far more useful picture. The more real and measurable the persona or segment is, the more we can turn that description of a hypothetical consumer into a usable methodology for creative messaging or media targeting.

What we are looking for is the intersection of response modeling, conversion modeling, demographic segmentation, behavioral data, and lifecycle data. Aligning all of this with a firm understanding of the customer journey gives you the insight you need to not only identify and target an audience, but to customize the offers, messages, and products best suited to meet those customers’ needs.

At IWCO Direct, we have a method and a process for taking a company from broad mass marketing, or persona-based targeting, toward demographic and analytic segmentation with specific record level targeting. This method utilizes record level data, customer insights, modeling, and methodical strategic testing to drive ROI.

Each IWCO Direct client starts at a different level of targeting criteria. Some have no knowledge of who their ideal client is; others are already using complex econometric models to drive response and conversion. No matter where our clients start in the process, we can improve their results. Many times results improve as much as 100% to 200% over the course of a year. In some cases, we provide those improvements in as little as 60 days!

Wherever you are in the process, we’re confident we can help. Contact me here to start the conversation.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2017/06/23/marketing-personas-analytic-segmentation/
Wes Sparling


Wes Sparling

Wes is a former agency owner with 25 years of direct marketing experience. As Chief Marketing Officer, he delivers multichannel marketing strategies and solutions that drive business growth and generate top-line revenue for distinguished brands in industries including telecommunications, financial services, and healthcare. He is a father who also loves stream fishing for trout, rooting for the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and his three dogs.

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